This movie and the succeeding ones with Mann, particularly 'The Naked Spur' in 1953, and 'The Man from Laramie' in 1955 helped to re-establish Stewart as a major force in Hollywood. Although he is now regarded as an actor of unusual versatility, Stewart was, at the time of the film's production, concerned about perceptions regarding his limited breadth. In 'Winchester '73' his character, Lin McAdam, is an unusual hero - somewhat tentative, even if he is the film's moral center. The movie portrays him as a deep, more complex character than in his previous roles, still likeable but more disillusioned and more inclined to violence. His performance in this and succeeding Westerns for Mann, proved beyond a doubt that this master of the craft could adeptly handle any role that came his way.
'Winchester '73' takes place in the Kansas of 1876 and revolves around a perfectly crafted, high-powered rifle that changes hands repeatedly. Each man who comes into possession of it is changed in some way-sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. It all comes to a head in a shooting contest, for which the prize is the titular rifle itself. James Stewart as Lin McAdam and his estranged brother, who bears another name (Dutch Henry Brown played by Stephen McNally), compete fiercely for possession of the weapon, and though Stewart wins, McNally steals it and sets off cross-country with Stewart in pursuit... What gives the pursuit an extra edge is Stewart's determination to revenge his father's death at the hands of that same renegade brother-a revenge fed by long-standing family hatred.
The cast is extremely strong. Shelley Winters is excellent as the far from virtuous leading lady, and the supporting players include such versatile character actors as Millard Mitchell, Will Geer as Wyatt Earp, and the incomparable Dan Duryea in a great villainous role as as Waco Johnnie Dean. You can also spot a young Tony Curtis, and Rock Hudson as an Indian Brave!
With 'Winchester '73', Mann created a different type of Western, but still maintaining its traditions with Wyatt Earp, Dodge City, and the wide open landscape. It is an exciting, very watchable film and one of the most enduring and popular films of James Stewart's career.
Main CastJames Stewart ... Lin McAdam
Shelley Winters ... Lola Manners
Dan Duryea ... Waco Johnnie Dean
Stephen McNally ... Dutch Henry Brown
Millard Mitchell ... High-Spade Frankie Wilson
Charles Drake ... Steve Miller
John McIntire ... Joe Lamont
Will Geer ... Wyatt Earp
Jay C. Flippen ... Sgt. Wilkes
Rock Hudson ... Young Bull
Tony Curtis ... Doan
James Best ... Crater
CreditsDirector ... Anthony Mann
Producer ... Aaron Rosenberg
Written ... Borden Chase, Robert L. Richards
Music ... Walter Scharf
Cinematography ... William H. Daniels
Format ... B & W
Distribution Company ... Universal Pictures
Release date ... July 12, 1950
Running time ... 92 minutes